New Australian treatment could save wounded soldiers

Australian scientists claim to have developed a "breakthrough treatment" to help soldiers severely wounded in battle, with the US to fund further research (AFP Photo/Behrouz Mehri) (AFP/File)

Sydney (AFP) - Australian scientists Wednesday said they have developed a "breakthrough treatment" to help soldiers severely wounded in battle, with the US to fund further research.

Researchers claim it could be the first big advance in treating battlefield casualties since the Vietnam War, with the potential to dramatically reduce deaths in the field.

"In the last 10 years, about 5,000 allied soldiers have died on the battlefield (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and 87 percent happen in the first 30 minutes before they can even get to a treatment centre, so that is the key time," Geoffrey Dobson of James Cook University, who developed the treatment, told AFP.

"About 25 percent have been deemed potentially salvageable, so about 1,000 lives could (have been) saved with our new solution."

Dobson's therapy, developed with research associate Hayley Letson, increases the chances of survival for injured soldiers in remote areas by raising blood pressure in the vital first few minutes after they are wounded.

"If that pressure is too low, the soldier will die. If that pressure is too high, where a clot has occurred, the high pressure will break that clot and you'll re-bleed," Dobson said.

The professor was inspired by animals such as the hummingbird, whose heartbeat slows by up to 99 percent from regular levels of 1,500 beats per minute when they are in a hibernation-like torpor.

Dobson said the therapy had been tested in rats and pigs. If US-funded trials are successful, the treatment could be used to treat patients in remote locations such as mothers who experience excessive blood loss after childbirth.

"We will also start talks on the regulatory process -– including clinical trials leading to FDA (official) approvals –- within a year," he said.

A key element of the treatment is that it needs only very small volumes of the solution: an initial shot given to soldiers in the first few minutes and a second to stabilise them ahead of an evacuation.

It contrasts with the high volumes of up to six litres of liquid used by medics during the Vietnam War to resuscitate critically hurt soldiers.

The treatment has attracted the interest of the US Special Operations Command, which has pledged Aus$550,000 (US$470,000) to develop it for human trials next year.